Merry Christmas

by Kieran Healy on December 24, 2005

Best wishes this Christmas to all our readers. Here’s a little bit from Alexander McCall Smith’s _At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances_ that I like to think about at this time of year. Plenty of time for shouting at one another in the New Year, but for the moment:

The Master then rose to give a short address.

‘Dear guests of the College,’ he began, ‘dear Fellows, dear undergraduate members of this Foundation: William de Courcey was cruelly beheaded by those who could not understand that it is quite permissible for rational men to differ on important points of belief or doctrine. The world in which he lived had yet to develop those qualities of tolerance of difference of opinion which we take for granted, but which we must remind ourselves is of rather recent creation and is by no means assured of universal support. There are amongst us still those who would deny to others the right to hold a different understanding of the fundamental issues of our time. Thus, if we look about us we see people of one culture or belief still at odds with their human neighbours who are of a different culture or belief; and we see many who are prepared to act upon this difference to the extent of denying the humanity of those with whom they differ. …

‘Here in this place of learning, let us remind ourselves of the possibility of combating, in whatever small way we can, those divisions that come between man and man, between woman and woman, so that we may recognise in each other that vulnerable humanity that informs our lives, and makes life so precious; so that each may find happiness in his or her life, and in the lives of others. For what else is there for us to hope for? What else, I ask you, what else?’

The Company You Keep

by Chris Bertram on December 24, 2005

I’ve just finished reading Neil Gordon’s “The Company You Keep”: which I’ve enjoyed and been stimulated by as much as any work of fiction I’ve read in the past year (I’ve barely put it down in the last two days). I won’t post plot spoilers here, but the central drama revolves around a former member of the “Weather Underground”: whose elaborate new identity comes apart in 1996, thereby risking both prison and the loss of his seven-year-old daughter. There are plenty of implausible coincidences in the plot, but Gordon manages to make the whole believable. The central literary conceit of the book is that it is presented as a series of emails from the main protagonists to the seventeen-year-old daughter ten years later. And those emails so do not read like any email anyone has ever written! The main theme of the book is about how trust in friends is more important than abstract principle. Questionable, perhaps, but Gordon puts the case persuasively. There’s also a lot of the spy thriller about the book, and plenty of revolutionary tradecraft that took me back to reading Victor Serge’s “What Every Revolutionary Should Know About State Repression”: and to the whole mystique of the “professional revolutionary” as once cultivated by the groupuscules. (Though it isn’t mentioned in the book, Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” seemed to play in my head as the appropriate sountrack as I read, together with a few others from Blood on the Tracks.)

I’d love to give every Crooked Timber contributor and reader a copy of this book for Christmas, but I’m afraid you’ll have to buy your own.